According to my two daughters, our family beach vacation on 30A was bougie. As in, “the bougiest beach trip ever!”
I would agree that 30A exudes money and respectability and comfort and status.
You can judge for yourself whether this is a good thing or bad…but you ARE on vacation…so maybe a little bougie respite is just what you need. A family beach vacation on 30A will definitely give you a break from reality.
Plus, it is beautiful. Beautiful communities and beautiful architecture, and most of all beautiful beaches.
30A exists for and caters to families who are looking for an easy-going family summer beach vacation. Our family thought that sounded like something we might enjoy! So, my husband and I and our two daughters hit the road south to Florida along with my two sisters, their families, and our mother. There were 13 of us ranging in age from 13 to 77. We were only missing my son and daughter-in-law and their three children. Maybe next time when the baby is older they can come along.
Multi-generational travel is the best! Our son and daughter in law with our grandchildren couldn’t go on this trip, but we took our granddaughter to Bryson City, NC earlier in the summer and had a great time with her.
So, just what is this 30A of which I speak?
Scenic 30A is a 24 mile stretch of beach road in South Walton County in the panhandle of Florida. It has grown tremendously since the 1990’s and is now covered with affluent little communities. Lined along most of it’s length with new condominiums and beach houses, the original structures are so rare that it became a pleasure to spot one.
A wonderful bike path follows the length of 30A and there are many crosswalks on the highway that give the right of way to all the bikes and pedestrians. Be on the lookout to stop for them!
It is very hard to actually see the ocean while driving this highway because of all the houses and condominiums that are built right on the beach. There are a few pockets of preserved areas and state parks that allow a glimpse of the coastal lakes as well as the sea oat covered dunes.
It is a shame that you can rarely see the beaches while driving the length of 30A because they are a sight to behold. These are some glorious beaches. Soft, white, sugar sand lapped by clear waters that are a beautiful turquoise/green color. Is there a name for this color?
All I know is that it was stunning! While we were there the waves were negligible which is normal for the summer months and one of the many reasons that these are great beaches for families with children.
Where should you stay on 30A?
Your choices are mostly going to be homes, duplexes, or condominium units, which you will find on VRBO or Airbnb. There are some boutique hotels but these don’t cater to children or large family groups.
I would recommend doing your best to get a house right on the ocean. Many, many of the homes on 30A are not on the water and will require you to bike, walk, or take a golf cart to get access to the ocean. We loved walking right off the deck of our rented duplex, down our private boardwalk, and straight onto the beach.
It was amazingly convenient to just be able to run back and forth from the house to the beach at will. Had my son and daughter in law and their three children been able to come with us this would have become even more important with little ones that still nap.
We enjoyed morning coffee with ocean views, evening wine with ocean breezes, running in to have a sandwich for lunch, grabbing a quick nap on the couch while everyone else was playing in the water…yep, we were spoiled by our perfect location.
Each of the 12 named communities along 30A have a slightly different feel.
Seaside is the heart of 30A as well as being the oldest and most well-known of the communities. It was the setting of the movie The Truman Show and definitely has that utopian, slightly too perfect to be real, movie set feeling. Seaside was the brainchild of a group of University of Miami architecture students back in the 1990’s. They based their ideas on the New Urbanism movement which basically means it is a walkable community with homes and stores in close proximity. Ok, there’s a lot more to the concept, but I’m no architect!
The bottom line is this: Seaside is lovely! We went there for lunch and discovered a town square with an amphitheater, a ridiculously adorable post office, boutique shopping, and and a line of airstream food trucks.
Oh, and crowds. Seaside is definitely the most crowded area on 30A, but its beach bars, delicious food, and pastel house and white picket fence perfection make it easy to see why people flock there.
Rosemary Beach is another well-known community where the southern rich and a few of the famous hang out. My husband and I had to drag ourselves off our paddle boards one morning in order to go to a bank in Rosemary Beach to sign some paperwork. (We are self-employed, there’s always something.)
We discovered that Rosemary Beach is beautiful and pristine as well as walkable and rideable.
The roads and the large green space in this section of 30A are lined with live oaks which give Rosemary Beach a beautiful sense of southern grace and charm. There is a quaint farmer’s market along with high-end shopping and a variety of restaurants. The homes are connected by paths and boardwalks and although we were there during the day I could see that the exteriors of the buildings were lit by gas lanterns. I suspect that Rosemary Beach would be stunning in the evening.
Alys Beach (pronounced Alice) is one of the newer communities and has a very distinct appearance. It is supposed to be based on the brilliant white estate homes of Bermuda. Seriously, everything is white! Like every single bit of architecture is painted white. The road is lined with tall, straight, palm trees and you will immediately notice some large structures that guard the perimeter of the area and look a bit like minarets.
I’m an investigator at heart so I had to look up what these things were! Turns out they were based on “butteries” that were used in Bermuda to protect perishables before the days of refrigeration. Hmmm. Ok. They were interesting. Alys Beach felt both stark and serene. A bit of an odd combination but it worked.
We stayed on Pelican Point just near Camp Creek Lake in the Seacrest area. The disadvantages were that it was a bit farther from restaurants and shopping. There was nothing within walking distance. (I guess the new urbanism people didn’t plan it.) The advantages were the relative seclusion and lack of crowds. Being near the lake meant that we could take a right turn onto the beach and within minutes have only ocean on one side and dunes on the other. It was lovely and a perfect location for us.
Grayton Beach might be my choice if we go back to 30A. It was one of the original settlements where people came to vacation. It has a bit of history and a bit of quirkiness. It still has pockets that make you feel as if you are in an old fashioned Florida beach town. Their motto is “nice dogs, strange people.” Sounds like my kind of place!
There are several more neighborhood and/or beach options along 30A than the ones I’ve mentioned. I’m sure that you will be able to find the perfect fit for your family!
Coastal Lakes along 30A
I mentioned above that we stayed near Camp Creek Lake, I discovered upon our return that the little lakes that line the beach along 30A are a rare geological phenomenon! I know that I had never seen anything like them before. They are smallish bodies of water that lie just inside the beach dunes. They are called coastal dune lakes and there are 15 of them in this area. The only other coastal dune lakes in the world are located in Madagascar, Australia, New Zealand, and Oregon. They are fed by streams, seepage, rain, and storm surge. Salt and fresh water flow back and forth from the lakes to the ocean and each of the 15 coastal dune lakes has its very own water chemistry ranging from highly salty to almost fresh.
They were lovely to see and I wondered about them every time we passed. So I researched after we got home and now I wish I had actually spent more time checking them out! If you visit 30A please take a better look at the coastal dune lakes for me!
What should you do on your family beach vacation on 30A?
It was all beach all the time for our crew. Our house came with four umbrellas and chairs which were delivered and set up each morning and taken down at night. Like magic! We rented some extra chairs and umbrellas to give us even more shade. These we had to set up and take down each day ourselves but it was worth it.
I do consider a chair and umbrella to be a necessity for a day at the beach. Here is a list of some more items that we consider to be beach essentials!
This is a crazy, new to most of us, Swedish tossing game. You throw wooden dowel type thingies at the other team’s wooden rectangle type thingies…ok, it’s too hard to explain…but worth looking into! Kubb is a great family game for all ages because you don’t actually have to be good. Seriously. You don’t have to have any talent or athletic ability AT ALL! A team can suddenly win at the end even if they haven’t managed to do anything well throughout the entire game.
Paddle boarding seems to be a major 30A past time so we rented a couple of them! I would highly recommend that you do the same. This is another fun activity for a variety of ages. None of us had ever tried it before and we learned and practiced right out on the ocean which shows you how insignificant the waves were.
We had great fun balancing and falling and paddling around until the very last day of the trip when my husband went out into the ocean on his board and saw a large shark pass right under him. I was sitting under an umbrella reading when I heard a yell and saw him frantically paddling back to shore. He said all he could think about was that the shark might decide to hit his board in order to figure out what it was.
My husband happens to be a Florida boy who spent his youth on the beach and in boats on the ocean. He knows a shark when he sees one. Earlier that morning we had taken a long beach walk and he had commented on how many bait fish were in the water. He wondered aloud if they might bring in some sharks.
And what about food?
Y’all there are a ton of restaurants along 30A and from what I hear there are many good ones! We ate all but one of our dinners at our house with each family taking turns cooking. I gotta tell ya, we are good cooks! We had muffalettas, pasta with shrimp and cream sauce, fried fish tacos…yum!
The one night we went out was to 723 Whiskey Bravo. Delicious! It is also one of the few highly recommended restaurants in the area which also take reservations. We thought reservations were important for our group of 13.
UPDATE: 723 Whiskey Bravo has not survived Covid19. The owners plan to close permanently.
Most of our lunches were sandwiches or snack-y meals at the house, although we did venture into Seaside one day to try lunch at the airstream food trucks. This was fun because the places are adorable, the food is pretty good, and it allowed everyone could get whatever they wanted. My husband and I had lunch at Summer Kitchen Cafe the day we went to the bank at Rosemary Beach. I had a great salad there.
As much as my family enjoys food and eating out this was not a foodie trip. We stuck near the house, playing on the beach and in the surf during the day, watching the sunset and ambling down the beach in the evenings, and playing games at home after it got too dark to be outside.
Our favorite inside game on this trip was Telestrations which is a drawing game. This is another activity that is perfect for a wide variety of age ranges to play together. I haven’t laughed so hard in months!
If you have ever traveled with extended family you know that the dynamics can be a tricky thing, but this family beach vacation on 30A went exceptionally well. I especially love observing the interaction of the cousins. It fills my heart to see how much they all love each other and how much fun they have with one another.
Vacationing together isn’t something our family does very often, but perhaps we should!
If you’ve managed to read this far then I’d love to hear about YOUR family vacations!
Thanks so much for stopping by.